HIV Activists/Gay Men Sentenced in Senegal: The Other Side of Rick Warren’s “Humanitarian Issue”


Pastor Rick Warren is right about one thing, gay rights is a humanitarian issue and a human rights issue.  The problem is he offered those comments in defense of retaining the privilege of heterosexual marriage, not as a result of the sentencing of nine men in Senegal to eight years in prison.

The Associated Press reports:

Nine men, including a prominent activist, have been convicted of
homosexual acts and sentenced to eight years in prison, a gay rights
group said Thursday.

Diadji Diouf, who heads an organization that
provides HIV prevention services to gay men in Senegal, and the others
were arrested Dec. 19 in a raid on Diouf’s apartment.

The men
were sentenced Wednesday for unnatural acts and criminal conspiracy,
said Joel Nana, Africa research and policy coordinator with the
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in Cape Town,
South Africa.

"This is the first case that we’ve heard of in
Senegal where people actually got sentenced," Nana said. He called the
sentences long and harsh. Diouf’s organization, AIDES Senegal, provides condoms and HIV treatment out of his home.

The
arrests came just weeks after Senegal hosted an international AIDS
conference that included gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
participants.

"It is a strong message of hatred, a strong message
of division when we know it is critical at this point to address HIV in
these communities," Nana said.

Senegal, a primarily Muslim nation
in West Africa, is one of 38 countries on the continent that
criminalize homosexual acts, Nana said. South Africa prompted
continent-wide controversy in 2006 when it became the first African
country to legalize gay marriage.

 

By contrast Pastor Warren, often lauded for his work with HIV/AIDS and in particular in Africa, essentially said that because gay people were such a small percentage of the population, they should not be allowed to marry, adding, "This is not even just a Christian issue. It’s a humanitarian and human issue." 

Warren also said, “Some people feel today that if you disagree with them then that’s
hate speech. Either if you disagree with them you either hate them or
you’re afraid of them. I’m neither afraid of gays nor do I hate gays.
In fact I love gays but I do disagree with some of their beliefs.”

Christianity is a belief, a choice. Sexuality is gift from God, for believers. I am gay, I don’t "believe" I’m gay, and I never had a choice, for which I thank God everyday. And in spite of many reasons to turn my back on faith as many have, I continue to believe Jesus has a bigger vision than Rick Warren of how we should treat our fellow humans. 

The distance between Rick Warren and the law in Senegal that has sentenced these nine gay HIV activists is measured in inches, not miles. I have defended President-elect Obama’s decision to reach out to Warren, from a position of strength that Obama has in his own beliefs and to attempt to model civility. 

It is up to Warren to move toward Obama, and he can start by denouncing this sentencing — as a humanitarian and human rights issue — and working to see that laws in the nations his missions work in are changed so that all God’s children are treated equally. Perhaps in all his work on AIDS Pastor Warren has yet to realize that it is the shame and stigma put on sex and sexuality by people like him that is at the core of the rampant spread of the disease, and that gay children who are loved, embraced and celebrated with an option of loving committed relationships — as opposed to growing up living in fear and shame — would make wise decisions about their sexual health. We see where thousands of years of stigma has gotten us. Could it be we are supposed to learn something from all the disease, like how to treat each other better?

Behind the Mask is a group that monitors human rights abuses of lesbian, gay, bi and transgender people throughout the continent of Africa.  You can learn more about Senegal’s discrimination here. Will someone please forward that link to Pastor Warren and urge him to make a real humanitarian response, not use Christianity to fight to protect privilege. Historically that hasn’t worked so well.

 

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  • invalid-0

    Scott–thanks for this important post. RR/RH advocates need to stay on this Rick Warren issue and continue to let Obama know how unacceptable his standards are. Violations of HR, our ability to advocate on HIV/AIDS (and not get arrested) and whether some people are considered “equal” enough to be members of a church affects all of us, not just gay people.

  • scott-swenson

    Thanks for your comment Margaret, this issues do affect everyone. Of the many appalling things about the way women and sexual minorities are treated around the world (and here) the most striking sentence in this AP story to me is “that he provides HIV services out of his apartment.” That man is doing God’s work, or was, before he was sentenced to eight years in jail for being gay. By contrast social cons in Congress, supported by Pastor Warren, last year put language in the PEPFAR bill that allows “faith-based” organizations to discriminate in their service provision, and of course insisted on retaining the ban on money be used for prevention, education and treatment of sex workers, IV drug users and men having sex with men. That’s Country Club Christianity if you ask me, picking and choosing who you will do good works for then gearing up the publicity machine to tout the good and ignore the fact that the most vulnerable are not benefiting from the work being done.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • http://rightdialogue.com invalid-0

    Scott Swenson doesn’t care for Rick Warren’s faith. Because Warren believes sodomy is dangerous and destructive, he doesn’t want to promote it by sanctioning it through state-recognized marriage.

    On the other side of the ocean, Senegal has sentenced 9 homosexuals to 8 years in jail. It’s important to note that the crime is not ‘being homosexual’ but rather, engaging in homosexual acts (more on that later). Sounds like a tough sentence, no doubt. But doesn’t a nation have the right to pass laws which promote the common good?

    Mr. Swenson, not wanting to go there, offers a different argument:

    “Christianity is a belief, a choice. Sexuality is gift from God, for believers. I am gay, I don’t “believe” I’m gay, and I never had a choice, for which I thank God everyday. And in spite of many reasons to turn my back on faith as many have, I continue to believe Jesus has a bigger vision than Rick Warren of how we should treat our fellow humans.”

    I happen not to have been convinced that God creates homosexuals. In fact, I’m inclined to believe otherwise, but I’m open to persuasion. Nevertheless, what we can be certain of is that homosexual behavior is a choice, a use of free will.

    Let’s assume for sake of argument, however, that God does create some men and women with a desire for the same sex. Not unlike the fact that I was born with a desire for the opposite sex. The fact that a homosexual is naturally attracted to the same sex is not sinful, just as my natural attraction to the opposite sex is not inherently sinful. They are not the same, however.

    As Mr. Warren points out, the former is unnatural and the later is natural. Put another way, the former would represent a defect, not unlike how many people (myself included) were born with an inclination to astigmatism and nearsightedness. We must cope with that defect and adjust our lives and act responsibly. Simply because I was born with bad eyes does not give me a license to shirk my responsibilities (claiming blindness), or run red lights, or otherwise use my defect as an excuse for why I cannot live a healthy life and conform to the norms of society.

    If-maintaining this unproven premise-homosexuals are ‘born that way’ and are not making a ‘choice’, it is still possible to live a healthy life of self-discipline, restraint and celibacy, just like any unmarried heterosexual person is called to.

    It is up to Warren to move toward Obama, and he can start by denouncing this sentencing — as a humanitarian and human rights issue — and working to see that laws in the nations his missions work in are changed so that all God’s children are treated equally.

    I don’t know whether Mr. Swenson simply doesn’t understand, or is ignorant of Christian doctrine, or whether this is the best argument he has, but Christians don’t believe that all behavior is equally meritorious. In fact, quite the contrary. The Christian faith teaches that murder, theft, lying, adultery, sodomy, drunkenness and a relatively long list of human behavior is worthy of condemnation, not just because of the moral implication, but because of the threat to society.

    Obviously it’s not a question of how Jesus would want us to treat one another (with charity at all times), it’s a question of whether we should deny Christ and embrace relativism. In truth, this is what the Left (not just the homosexual lobby), wants. They want a Jesus without the cross, the mercy without the justice, a Jesus of the Beatitudes but not the Commandments. This worldview is the cause of most of our cultural decay. But that’s for another post.

    I assume that Mr. Swenson would agree that it is good that we consider murder a crime and punish it aggressively. Perhaps he would say that it is good to punish murder because by doing so we protect the people, punish the guilty and discourage others from similar crimes, thereby promoting the common good.

    In a society such as ours that criminalizes many human actions because they are harmful, why is it so wrong to criminalize sodomy? There is well-documented evidence of the danger of the homosexual lifestyle.

    Of course, Mr. Warren won’t be able to be that honest. However, if one accepts both the Christian faith AND the rule of law AND the premise for the existence of the nation state in the western world, this is a logical conclusion. Framing this as a humanitarian issue is a red herring, and I suspect Mr. Swenson knows it. I suspect the strategy is to place an inordinate amount of pressure on Mr. Warren at a time when his profile is higher than ever in hopes of getting him to back down.

    I don’t know a great deal about Warren, but I hope for the sake of his conscience his faith is built on rock.

  • invalid-0

    I happen to be Scott Swenson’s Father and would justsay that I believe God has had a part in Scott’s Mother and me in bringing three Children, 2 Heterosexual and 1 Homosexual into this world. End of comment.

  • scott-swenson

    God blessed me with a very loving and accepting family across many generations. Thanks Dad. The picayune theology that religionists love to debate and argue has become so far removed from most people’s reality people that Mr. More no longer recognizes humanity, compassion or sees the God in people that do not look, think and act exactly as he. Such is the case of Mr. More, all dialogue and debate, secure that he has everything figured out just right and if only everyone did exactly as he, all would be well. Sometimes the responses from absolutists are a challenge to read, and probably more so for family who of course are protective. After all, I’m choosing to take up a political battle because of what I know from the depths of my soul to be true. It is a fight for my life — and the lives of LGBT people and for our families who love us, and even for the families that shun us, because forgiveness is an important lesson to learn in life. My family didn’t choose this battle, they just want me to be happy and safe. God love them for that.

    Mr. More, yes, nations do have the right to determine what is in the common good and suffice it to say we have a slightly different understanding of what faith means. That is as it should be and I respect the way you choose to live your faith, even if it means standing peacefully by as you cast your stones. Thankfully, as humanity evolves, so does our understanding of what the common good is. Once this nation believed the common good was to make women second class citizens and Africans only fractionally human. Do you believe that is still the common good Mr. More, should we pick a moment in human history and just fix everything to that understanding of what the common good is and never again change? Many people believe that America is a beacon of freedom in the world — I don’t hear that about Senegal, I don’t see people flocking to countries that have repressive regimes or routinely abuse human rights in any way. It seems people in those countries are trying to get to the places on earth where there is at least an open struggle to secure human rights for all, where people at least have a chance to express themselves as their soul intended. Perhaps, Mr. More, you could lead many of the people who believe like you — in more repression — to those countries that support strict religious laws and see how you fare. If the freedom that many of us are fighting for in America is burdensome to you, the world is a big place and there are plenty of places where the repression you seek flourishes.

    Sexuality is not an affliction or a disease. I will agree that we should all use more respect, more wisdom and be more responsible with our sexuality — no matter how you express it. That is why I fight for marriage. There are lessons to be learned that can only be learned through the long term commitment and deepening intimacy it brings. But having had many examples in my life of the fact that it is possible to find deep love more than once, be it through people who love each other, divorce and remarry to find new love, or in serial relationship, it is not an institution like marriage or laws or even religion that makes love and commitment work. It is honesty between the two people involved. Without that, nothing else matters.

    So let’s be honest, Mr. More. You believe to your core you have all the answers. I believe to my core that I don’t, but that at the very least I am being honest with myself and my personal relationship with God about who I am and how I experience my life. That is my business, my relationship with God, and I’m willing to live this life being true to my journey and encouraging others to be true to theirs, not living to your standards or the way you interpret God for you and your life. That is not relativism Mr. More, I believe they call that faith. I have faith in my experience of this life and its connection to something much more powerful and compassionate than me, or you, or what passes for reality.

    One last thing Mr. More. It was a conservative Supreme Court during the George W. Bush administration at the zenith of the social conservative era that ruled 6-3 in 2006 that sodomy was unconstitutional.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    Scott –

    You are the editor here and I cannot find your e-mail any place so I appologize for wirting about this here. You have an article by E.J. Graff on adoption that is totally rife with factual errors. She talks about international adoption, with allegations of “baby snatching” and such. This is a bunch of hooey. Current rules by the United States require a DNA match to the birth mother before a child is allowed to enter into the United States. In Guatemala, there has been a requirement of a DNA match for quite a while now. There are a bunch of other things that are factually wrong with the article also but you can go over and read the comments. Your journal says that it is about putting out factual information and this piece isn’t. I would strongly request that you take it down until the allegations made in it can be fact-checked and real, current information put in its place.

    Thanks

    Carol

  • http://www.lewisbuilders.com/east-hampstead1.asp invalid-0

    This is horrible. This is such an important issue, and one that deals with humanity very deeply. We are taking strides backward if people are being sentenced for being gay and engaging in homosexual activity. And 8 years?! This is rediculous. Thanks for posting this and thanks to your dad for jumping in, since some people are still ignorant.

  • invalid-0

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    THE IDEA that AMBUSH cures AIDS
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    RESULTS:
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    DISCUSSION:
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    PROPOSAL:

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    apostleshadamishe@gmail.com

    Here is a video taped presentation that I gave at t he Martin Luther King library in Washington

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8V53D1w__Po
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPwuwlVBOV0
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZejptOwMTzQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqcTgIAhrhc
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7HPKcT_iwY
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9iQfgiYAnw
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3RzRS6tJDM